Monday, March 30, 2009

Pesto Sauce and Freezing Tips

I really like this pesto sauce recipe from From Mommy's Kitchen. I've made it several times and the family always loves it - it's a nice easy sauce to mix with almost any type of pasta. I like to make it in big batches (when and if I can ever accumulate that much basil) and then freeze it in small servings so I can take them out quickly and serve them on short notice.

If I have learned anything cooking so much in the past couple years, it's to make extra of what you are cooking . . . and FREEZE it. I just adore having a freezer full of food for weeks when I don't have time to cook, have other things going on . . . or am, truthfully, completely lazy. I have my Sharpie and masking tape on hand in my kitchen drawer, so I can always label my items by type and by date. It makes it much easier to grab what I'm looking for quickly if I'm not holding the container up to the light trying to decipher what *may* or may not be inside.

For things like soup and chicken stock, I have learned to use ziploc bags, and lay them flat in the freezer because they take up far less space than a bulkier container. I label the front so I know what I have, and then I usually defrost such liquid items in a big bowl of hot water.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Week of March 29, 2009

Last week's smoky beef tacos were good - I think they might have been amazing had I not made a tiny error in cooking it. One so embarrassing I am unsure I can bring myself to share it here. Needless to say, it was a little dried out, but I suspect in following the recipe more carefully, they would have been spectacular. And despite my typing in "slow cooker" beef tacos, they were actually not cooked in the slow cooker, they were done in my dutch oven. Hmmmmm.

I'm excited to try Beth's Linguine with Clams and Bacon this week, as it has been in my "to make" pile for ages and I haven't gotten around to it. My husband is not a big clams guy (and I was born and raised on the East Coast of Canada . . . need I say more???) so I'm hoping he will be open to giving it a try. I'll point out that it has bacon . . . perhaps his love affair with bacon will allow him to see past the pesky tiny shellfish!

Sunday: Fast Pasta with Tomatoes
Monday: Spinach Salad with Spicy Shrimp and Mango
Tuesday: Crockpot Taco Soup
Wednesday: Cayenne-rubbed Chicken with Avocado Salsa
Thursday: Curried Lentils in tomato sauce
Friday: Home-made Pizza (a Friday night favourite now)
Saturday: Linguine with Clams and Bacon

Since I received a lot of zucchini in our organic basket this week, I'm going to make these zucchini-chocolate chip muffins. I made them several times last summer and they were a big hit. The boys didn't even notice the zucchini and gobbled them up.

I've been finding my boring and monotonous lunches a little more than I can take, so if the mood strikes I'm going to try this pressed mozzarella and tomato sandwich one mid-day this week.

Fast Pasta with Tomatoes
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
roughly 3 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
penne or rotini pasta
1 cup grated mozzarella or other cheese

In a.m. - combine tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Cover and leave to marinate on counter.

Later - cook pasta according to directions. Drain and return to pot. Add marinated veggies. Add cheese, toss, cover. Set aside for five minutes, until cheese melts slightly. Serve with salad and a baguette!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Week of March 22, 2009

I cannot believe the bad luck I have had with the "Smoky Beef Tacos". I have posted this recipe half a dozen times and something always comes up so that I'm unable to make it. This week, I'm dedicated to making it. We will tacos on Monday if it kills me.

Last week's Irish Beef Stew was surprisingly delicious and very easy to make. Other than browning the beef before placing it in the crockpot, there was very little work involved, aside from smelling the delicious aroma all day in my kitchen!

Two of this week's menu items are from the April issue of Everyday Food, and they will not be posted to their site until April 1st, at which time I will add links.

Sunday: Stir Fry
Monday: Slow Cooker Smoky Beef Tacos
Tuesday: Spaghetti with Shrimp and Bacon (recipe from April, not posted yet)
Wednesday: Shepherd's Pie (have several in the freezer, thankfully)
Thursday: Dinner at Preschool Fundraiser (at a pub - yay!)
Friday: Pasta with Meat Sauce
Saturday: Spanish Tortilla with Bell Pepper (recipe from April, not posted yet)

I found this simple, basic recipe for Marinara Sauce in my Everyday Food magazine, and might try it this week. I am trying to cut down on meat (b/c it is expensive and not that good for us) and am looking for more veg-based pastas and other meals.

Rustic Marinara Sauce

from Everyday Food Magazine from Martha Stewart, March 2009

In a large pot, heat 2 T of olive oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, and a pinch of red pepper flakes over medium until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add two 28 ounce cans whole tomatoes with juice, crushed; season with salt and pepper. Cook at a rapid simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Week of March 15, 2009

Sunday: Leftovers/Cream of Broccoli Soup
Monday: Beth's Roast Chicken
Tuesday: Irish Stew
Wednesday: Chicken Pot Pie
Thursday: Slow Cooker Smoky Beef Tacos
Friday: Home - made pizza
Saturday: Fettuccine with Two Cheeses

After making several batches of Pureed Broccoli Soup, I wanted to try something that was a bit richer in flavour and consistency. I cooked up this cream soup from Martha, and have made it several times. We love it, and I served it at a potluck last night and all the guests (said they) loved it. I've done it twice with cauliflower too, with fabulous results.

Cream of Broccoli Soup
from Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Chef

5 T unsalted butter
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1/4 cup plus 1 T all purpose flour
4 cups basic chicken stock
1 head of broccoli
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute (the flour should not take on any colour).

Pour in stock, whisking to incorporate fully, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, whisking fairly often, to cook out raw flour taste and thicken liquid.

Add broccoli stems and season with salt and pepper. Return to a boil, stirring to combine, then add florets and return to a boil. Reduce heat and gently simmer until tender enough to mash with the back of a spoon, 10 to 20 minutes.

Working in batches (do not fill more than halfway), pour contents of pot into a blender and puree until smooth. Pass soup through a fine sieve into a clean pot, pressing on solids with a flexible spatula to extract as much liquid as possible.

Set pot over low heat and whisk in cream. (Thin with more stock or water, if necessary.) Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Serve immediately or cool completely, then refrigerate in an airtight container.

Chicken Pot Pie
adapted from the Best of the Best of Bridge Series

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste
2 T finely chopped onion
3 cups chicken broth
2 carrots, chopped in small pieces
2 celery stalks, chopped in small pieces
2 potatoes, cubed in small pieces
3 cups sliced mushrooms
2 T butter 1/2 cup peas
3 cups cooked and diced chicken
Pastry to cover 3L casserole or frozen puff pastry dough

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Blend in flour, salt, pepper and onion. Gradually stir in chicken broth. Cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and thickened. Add carrots, celery and potatoes. Cook until fork tender. In a small frying pan, cook the mushrooms in butter. Add mushrooms, peas and chicken to vegetable mixture. Mix well and pour into large casserole dish. Cover with rolled pastry and slash to allow steam to escape. Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until pastry is golden. If pastry becomes too brown, cover loosely with foil.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Week of March 8, 2009

The Fresh Pear and Curry Pasta on our menu last week was a surprising hit! It was absolutely fantastic, and I completely expected it to only be mediocre. Was I wrong. Paul had two bowls and even the Things picked at theirs a bit. It will definitely be on our long-range menu plan.

The Drunken Garlic Pot Roast was another favourite from last week - it was so rich and flavourful, much better than many of the roasts I've cooked (slow cooker or not). Two of the Things loved it and gobbled it up. With only one bottle of beer in the sauce, I figured a wee bit couldn't hurt them.

I didn't make the Beef Tacos last week so I'm hoping to fit that in this week, and I was able to find the recipe on the Everyday Food site.

Sunday: Pasta with Shrimp and Broccoli
Monday: Slow Cooker Smoky Beef Tacos
Tuesday: Leftovers/Freezer Meal
Wednesday: Beth's Roast Chicken
Thursday: Thing 1's birthday dinner - his choice
Friday: Linquine with Spring Vegetables
Saturday: Pot Luck dinner with friends, I'll be bringing - Crockpot Taco Soup

If I can fit it in this week or next, I'm going to try this pizza crust recipe I found. It looks easy - I hope. In the past I've not had much luck with pizza crust. The ones I usually make I do in my bread machine, and I have a feeling I don't knead the dough long enough. If this turns out better than my previous attempts, I will have an alternative to the Things' favourite pizza joint around the corner.

Fast and Easy Pizza Crust
adapted from The Best of the Best of Bridge Series

3/4 cup warm water
1 T active dry yeast (1 pkg)
1 T sugar
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 t salt
1 T yellow cornmeal
1 T olive oil
cornmeal to sprinkle

Preheat oven to 450. Lightly oil a 12" pizza pan. In a small bowl, mix warm water, yeast and sugar together. Let sit until yeast activates, about five minutes.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, salt and cornmeal. Add yeast mixture and olive oil and knead to a smooth dough, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle a work surface with cornmeal and roll dough into a 13" circle and place on pizza pan. Crimp edges and add your favourite toppings. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Makes one 12" pizza.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Smoked Salmon Quesadillas

(Still perfecting my photography skills - couldn't get that shadow out of the picture for the life o me!!!)

We went to a friend's 40th birthday party last night, and I tried a new recipe to bring as an appetizer. Paul and I absolutely loved it. I don't think there were a lot of smoked salmon lovers there, as I have a feeling that we ate most of the platter ourselves!!

Smoked Salmon Quesadillas

1 anaheim pepper, charred, peeled and cut into strips
1 red bell pepper, charred, peeled and cut into strips
1/4 cup goat cheese
1/4 cup of cream cheese, room temperature
3 8" flour tortillas
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into thin slices
1/4 cup shallots (I used leeks)
2 oz. smoked salmon, cut into strips

In a small bowl, mix together the goat cheese and cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Spread one third of the mixture over half of each tortilla. Divide the pepper strips evenly over the 3 halves of the tortillas.

Layer the avocado slices over the pepper strips and top with the shallots. Divide the salmon evenly on the tortilla halves. Fold the tortillas over, pressing to seal.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat and brown the folded tortillas until the cheese melts. Turn over and brown on the other side. Cut each quesadilla into four wedges and serve immediately.

Week of March 1, 2009

The crock pot chili I made last week ended up being spectacular. I altered the recipe a little bit, and added extra spices because we love our chili burning hot! It was the perfect cold (ok, freezing) night meal and I baked a loaf of whole grain bread to go with it (in my bread machine - I am not yet brave enough to tackle baking real bread).

I'd forgotten how much we all liked Dara's Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins. I found one last serving of frozen pumpkin puree in the freezer, so I whipped up a batch of these muffins a couple days ago and the kids have been devouring them.

Spending less on groceries is going okay. We are a big family and we like to eat. With all of us home we are all eating three meals a day at home, seven days a week. I am also watching another little boy right now, who boasts a pretty healthy appetite. I'm shocked at how quickly we go through milk, bread, fruit, etc. But we have definitely cut out extras, and I'm sure in the big picture that is saving us money. Our big saver has been drinks - I stopped buying orange juice and only buy apple juice for the kids and dilute it. I don't miss the orange juice too much, it is full of sugar and not good for us anyway. We don't drink Perrier anymore (which I do miss but am living without) or club soda, or other pop or fruit drinks. We also cut out beer and wine - and while THAT certainly hurts, it has to be saving us money.

My money saving venture for this week is to make Thing 1's birthday cake. I am not much of a cake decorator so I chose a recipe that looks manageable. He REALLY wants an Indiana Jones cake and the one at the bakery around the corner is basically $50. For a kid's cake!!!??? So we are having a small birthday party at our home, with Indiana Jones-themed games and ordering pizza. I hope it goes well.

I'm very excited to be trying Beth's Drunken Garlic Pot Roast tonight. I'm a big fan of her blog and her recipes, and Paul has yet to dislike something of hers that I've made. It looks like a delicious cold Sunday night meal!!

Here's a look at our menu for the coming week:

Sunday: Drunken Garlic Pot Roast
Monday: Leftovers (do something with extra meat from last night)
Tuesday: Fresh Pear and Curry Pasta
Wednesday: Sour Cream Noodle Bake
Thursday: Leftovers/Freezer Meal
Friday: Pan Seared Salmon with Avocado Remoulade
Saturday: Indiana Jones birthday cake for Thing 1's birthday party

With sick kids for the past few weeks, I've done a lot of sitting around flipping through old recipe books. I've rekindled my love for The Best of The Best of Bridge book. It's full of simple, flavourful and not-too-difficult recipes. The recipe below is adapted from here.

Fresh Pear and Curry Pasta

1/2 small onion, chopped
2 T oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T medium curry paste
1 tsp tomato paste
2 T honey
2 cups chicken broth
1 unpeeled ripe pear, sliced in thin wedges
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 T cream or milk
3 T chopped cilantro
Rotini, bow tie or shells pasta

In a frying pan over medium heat, saute onion in oil until soft. Add garlic and curry paste and stir 2-3 minutes. Add tomato paste and honey and stir another 2 minutes. Add broth, increase heat to medium high and boil gently, reducing liquid to less than 1 cup. (This takes about 15 minutes - now is a good time to start cooking the pasta).

Add pear slices and cook for one minute. Add tomatoes and cream and stir another 2 minutes. Stir in chopped cilantro. Pour over pasta and toss gently.

If you insist on meat - serve with grilled chicken breast or pork tenderloin!